SMCM Runs “Through the Lens” Photography Program

By Angelie Roche

Beginning this month, SMCM’s Inclusive Diversity, Equity, Access and Accountability office partnered with the St. Mary’s County Art Council to run a community photography program for underrepresented youth– that is, first-generation college students, Pell Grant recipients, ethnic minorities, and students with disabilities. The program, called Through The Lens, aims to provide mentorship for aspiring photographers ages 16-18. Those who complete the program will learn camera techniques, how to find their own creative voice and how to tell the stories of their unique communities. As an extra incentive, participants in this free program will receive college credits should they attend SMCM in the coming years. 

Professor Tristan Cai of the SMCM Art department is leading the program along with the IDEAA office and six student peer mentors. Cai and IDEAA wanted to find a way to integrate photography and community-building for minority students. This integration of photography and inclusion is new and unique — while there are art programs in St. Mary’s County Public Schools, according to Cai “there is nothing as in-depth as a semester-long program with an intentional mentorship model.” Through The Lens allows SMCM students to work with and act as role models for youths who aspire to go to college and study art like them. Additionally, the project will “allow our underrepresented youths to amplify their voice through a public photography exhibition” once the program is complete. 

The six mentors began their training during the spring 2021 semester, wherein they received credits for CORE-P 201. Now, in the fall, they meet with their high school pupils once a week. The groups are small — each cohort has 5-10 students, allowing for a close-knit environment. Some weekly themes include photo walks in the Great Mills community, brainstorming research projects and Digital Image Editing classes using Adobe Photoshop. By the end of the semester, the high school students will know about lighting techniques, ethics and photography, stories behind pictures and presentation methods, all of which will prepare them for the professional world of photography, in college and beyond. 

Senior Piper Deleon, a Biology major and Filipino American, is one of Through the Lens’ mentors. Along with her peers, she has made and taught lessons to the students regarding photography and the professional world. Her favorite part of the program has been “interact[ing] with the students in-person,” a privilege many are grateful for after a year of Zoom. By meeting face-to-face–or mask-to-mask–mentors and students can form a bond throughout their time together on the program. 

Through the Lens is already off to a great start, and Professor Cai hopes that it will continue in the coming years. At the end of the fall semester, the program will once again be calling for student mentors who will train in spring 2022, so anyone who is interested should lookout for more information regarding Through the Lens in the coming months.

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